Open and Affirming
We are an Open and Affirming Church, committed to supporting Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgendered people and their families in Denver and beyond. First Plymouth Congregational Church designated itself an Open and Affirming (ONA) church in 1999. Simply put, our policy is:
In keeping with the life and teaching of Christ Jesus, we joyfully and unconditionally welcome all people of any age, gender, race, culture, ability, or sexual orientation into our community of faith and affirm the worth of all people as unique individuals made in God’s image. We are open to the special gifts that each person brings and invite each one to participate in the life of our church.
First Plymouth has a committee that focuses on the implementation and manifestation of the church’s commitment to being an inclusive, welcoming place for everyone, no exceptions. Its activities include the annual PrideFest parade and response to critical events unfolding in our community, such as firearm violence and social justice. For more information about the ONA committee, please contact the church office.
On December 9, 2012, First Plymouth member and Eagle Scout, Rolf Asphaug delivered the following message during the worship service regarding the Boys Scouts of America’s recent decision to ban gays from participating in the Boy Scouts. (read his original statement here)
Rolf has penned an update to his 2012 statement, bringing us up to date (2018).
Scouting and Reverence for Our Faith – Continued
by Rolf Asphaug
Six years ago I spoke to our church and wrote an article for our newsletter on the Boy Scouts of America’s resistance to equality and inclusion for LGBT persons. Earlier that year the national BSA had issued a decision publicly reaffirming a long-hidden official policy prohibiting anyone who was “openly and avowedly” gay or lesbian from being a Scout or a Scout leader. I wrote about the struggles local Scout families had in squaring that ugly national policy with our own faiths and personal beliefs. We were wondering whether to pull our two boys out of Scouting: both were Cub Scouts at the time.
After a lot of soul-searching and prayer, and with guidance from Rev. Anastos, we decided to keep our kids in Scouting and work from within to overturn this ignorant, discriminatory decision – as did many other devoted Scouters. The benefits of Scouting to our youth were far too important to cede the field to a misguided clique of fearful bigots – at least not without a fight!
Well, it’s now six years later, and as many of you know, there has been a total sea change in American Scouting. (I emphasize “American,” because with the notable exception of the USA, Scouting movements throughout the world have long accepted LGBT persons without any fuss or issues.) That ignorant, discriminatory decision by the national BSA to dredge up a long-forgotten policy actually did the Scouting movement a favor: it forced the issue into the open. For years Scouting had been unofficially operating on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” system similar to the military’s old system, in which LGBT persons needed to hide their identities and were always at risk of being outed and dismissed.
The rear-guard action of the national BSA failed spectacularly. Instead, it led to an outcry unprecedented in the history of Scouting: an outcry not just by American society as a whole, but by thousands and thousands of devoted Scouting families and volunteers who said, plain and simple, that Scouting isn’t about discrimination. A movement called Scouts for Equality drew tens of thousands of Scouters to its ranks. Current and former Scouts across the nation made their voices heard. Everyone pointed out the hypocrisy of the national BSA’s prohibiting openly gay or lesbian members and volunteers, when the Scout Handbook itself states: “Your relationships with others should be honest and open. You should respect and defend the rights of all people.”
The national BSA’s 2012 reaffirmation of bigotry also collided with Scouting’s bedrock value of non-sectarianism. Scouting has always been a movement open to persons of all faiths – including the UCC and its Open and Affirming churches – yet here the national BSA was seeking to impose on all Scouters a narrow belief system held by an ever-diminishing group of churches.
Scouting has always been a very traditional, even hidebound, organization that is slow to change, yet within a matter of months the national BSA had recognized its huge mistake. The first step the BSA took was to say that it was OK for “openly” gay or lesbian youth to stay in the organization – but LGBT adult leaders still had to stay in the closet. That “solution” wasn’t acceptable to anyone, so the next step the BSA took was to state that from now on, there is no national policy prohibiting openly gay or lesbian adults or youth in the BSA.
This means that, for example, an openly gay adult can get a job working at a BSA store, or serve in a local council, or staff a national camping event, and any local unit that is comfortable with openly LGBT volunteers may recruit them without fear of being second-guessed from above. However, in recognition that some local Scout units are chartered by religious organizations that still view homosexuality as a sin, the BSA said that it would still allow local units to select its own adult leaders based on their own standards. This is problematic to say the least, but it was enough of a compromise so that large chunks of Scouting – Catholics, Mormons, conservative Protestants, etc. – were content to remain within the Scouting umbrella, while the movement towards full equality continues from within. Efforts to create a new, discriminatory youth group basically collapsed.
And now, most recently, BSA has taken another huge step by opening up “Boy” Scouting to girls. There are now already girl Cub Scouts (ages 6-11), and by 2019 there will be opportunities for girls to be involved in Boy Scouting and even to earn the cherished Eagle rank. When my oldest son becomes an Eagle Scout later this year, he will be among the last Scouts for which such an opportunity was available only to boys.
Looking back six years, if it hadn’t been for a last, loud gasp of reactionary, fearful bigotry – which led to an uprising across the land – the Boy Scouts of America might have been content to follow its “keep-‘em-closeted, no girls allowed” stance for many more years. It took ugliness coming out into the open, where it could be seen and rejected for what it was, to inspire and catalyze lasting change for the better.
Maybe in this respect, the painful but ultimately successful transformation of the Boy Scouts over the past six years holds lessons for our entire nation in the next few years.